From Publishers Weekly
U.K.-based Lewycka, a Booker and Orange Prize nominee for 2005's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
, follows up with a Chaucer-inspired tale of migrant workers trapped at global capital's thuggish bottom. After being helped into England by men like Vulk, an armed, lecherous creep of indeterminate former east bloc origins, a disparate group of strawberry pickers begins a pilgrimage-like search for labor across the countryside after their philandering boss is run over and crippled by his wife. Among them are two Ukrainians: Irina, a naïve teenager from Kiev, and Andriy, a former coal miner. After a brief stop in Canterbury, the workers—from Malawi, China, Malaysia and elsewhere—arrive in Dover with their loyal dog. There, they unexpectedly meet shady recruitment consultant Vitaly, who promises jobs in the dynamic resurgence of the poultry industry. The plot moves slowly, and things get worse for the group. Lewycka doesn't have a perfect command of all the cultures she aims to represent, making some of her satires broad and unfunny. There are, however, captivating scenes (some not for the squeamish), and many of the characters are complex and multifaceted, Irina and Andriy in particular. As a send up of capitalism's grip on the global everyman, Lewycka's ensemble novel complements Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan
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This affectionate follow-up to Lewyckas début novel (about a Ukrainian family assimilating to contemporary Britain) plays out similar themes of immigrant struggle on a broader scale. A cast of itinerant characters realize that picking strawberries in Kent is more lucrative than white-collar jobs in their homelands, and narrate their journeys in the spirit of Chaucers pilgrims. Among them are a domineering Polish woman and her mild-mannered niece; a seventeen-year-old Malawian whose innocence is in inverse proportion to the tragedies of his past; two giggly but intellectual Chinese girls; and a pair of antagonistic Ukrainians (she the educated daughter of a professor, he the pragmatic son of a miner). Lewyckas stylistic quirks can sometimes fall flata dog with Disney-like abilities to rescue characters gets a recurrent speaking rolebut the jostle of voices creates an effervescent comedy, beneath which lies a more sombre look at the costs of globalization.
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